A 40-yard dash time is just a number.
Plenty of wide receivers have become stars without posting eye-popping digits in the NFL’s annual fastest man contest, and plenty more have turned in blazing times that never turned into production.
But it’s a figure Laquon Treadwell hasn’t quite been able to outrun as the race to the NFL draft nears the finish. Widely considered the best receiver prospect in this class at the beginning of the draft cycle, the former Ole Miss star was being knocked for his lack of top-end speed even before he ran a pedestrian 4.63 seconds in the 40 at the Rebels’ Pro Day.
“The questions, they don’t really bother me,” Treadwell said at the NFL scouting combine. “I still have to go out there and play and have the production on the field.”
Treadwell’s production was as good as a finely tuned assembly line at Ole Miss. A productive SEC receiver from the moment he stepped on the Oxford, Mississippi, campus, Treadwell realized his full potential with an 82-catch, 1,153-yard season in 2015 that produced 11 touchdowns.
A 6-foot-2, 221-pound target with a penchant for making tough catches in traffic and a hard-nosed style of running after the catch, Treadwell seemed like a lock at the top of the wide receiver class.
He still might be.
“He can do everything,” Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Jr., said. “He’s big, fast, strong, he can catch the ball in traffic. There’s not a lot you can do to get the ball off of him.”
Treadwell has also proven he can handle adversity. Back in November of 2014, Treadwell was headed into the end zone with what looked like a game-winning touchdown against Auburn when a Tiger tackled him from behind, the weight of the linebacker’s body snapping the fibula in Treadwell’s leg and dislocating his ankle.
He fought his way back and started running by February.
“Some days I would be down and be like, ‘Aw man, it’s tough,’ but I just stayed with it, kept my faith,” Treadwell said. “(Rehab) was night and day from six in the morning to 11 at night. Sometimes I would sleep in the facility, stay up there and watch film, watch myself before (the injury) and just try to get that comfort level, that confidence back.”
His teammates saw that kind of toughness on the field.
“Haven’t y’all seen him block?” teammate Laremy Tunsil said. “His blocking skills, his catching skills. You aren’t going to ever find a receiver like that again.”
Despite all of that, the questions about Treadwell’s speed remain, in part because of the way Ole Miss got him the ball. Hugh Freeze’s offense builds in a lot of quick, short throws, throws that took advantage of Treadwell’s ability to run after the catch but didn’t always give him a chance to prove he can get separation downfield.
Treadwell admits he’s got some things to learn as a vertical threat.
“I’ve just got to work on it, continue to get better,” Treadwell said. “Learn from guys who are already there on the team that I’m drafted to.”
His speed could affect where Treadwell goes even if he is the first receiver off the board. In past years, the top receivers in the draft have often been taken in the top 10, but a lot of talent evaluators think the 2016 draft class might be lacking that kind of talent.
Saints coach Sean Payton told the NFL Network in February that he didn’t see a Julio Jones type in this receiver class, and although New Orleans has a need at receiver after the decision to part ways with Marques Colston, the Saints must decide whether they should spend the No. 12 pick on a receiver if he’s not a clear-cut, bona fide star.
Now, the Saints, like most NFL teams, know blinding track speed is no indicator of stardom. Dallas star Dez Bryant ran a 4.52 at his pro day; Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins ran a 4.57 at the NFL combine before posting sub-4.5’s at his Pro Day.
Treadwell might be a step or two behind those players.
But he’s not looking to follow in their footsteps. Treadwell wants to be his own man in the NFL.
“I do like the way Dez Bryant plays, the way he attacks the ball and makes the difficult plays, so there are similarities there,” Treadwell said. “But I don’t like to model myself after anyone. I have learned to create my own style of play.”
And he’s been plenty fast enough so far.